When Adjectives Are Not Definitions

I am a blessed woman.  Hands down.  I am blessed.  I have a relatively easy life.  It could certainly become more complicated at a moment’s notice; fortunately, those moments seem to elapse fairly quickly in the grand scheme of things.

The reason why I see myself as being a blessed woman is because of the people I have met and the lessons I have learned from each person.  I get to collect stories, catalogue experiences, and temporarily walk through the lives of other people and, in doing so, I find that the spectrum of my soul gains new textures, new hues, new patterns.

Over the course of nearly two decades, my students have taught me incredible things.  I know that I wrote a blog about the lessons I have learned from my students.  However, this is more…

I’m waffling with words right now.  I’m worried that I’m going to write something that people are going to mis-interpret and will be offended and then the importance of what I’m really trying to write will be lost.  But I’m going to walk into the labyrinth of this post with as much trepidation and respect as I can.

One of my favorite student-notes is one I can’t read unless I have a very special translation key; it’s in braille.  And it’s really wonderful because I love textures so when I happen to open my desk drawer and find this note, I always carefully run my fingers along the bumps of each letter so that I can re-experience the joy of decoding this note.  I make a point of not applying any pressure; I’m afraid that the braille bumps will eventually collapse and the secrets and mysteries of the note will disappear.  Now, I actually have the note halfway memorized because the majority of it is the lyrics to the Big Bang Theory opening song.  Regardless, it is a tactile reminder of a lovely student, Sarah, whom my children refer to as Blind Sarah.

I hear you all gasping.  Oh my gosh…did she just refer to her student as blind Sarah?  Yes.  Yes I did.  And the reason is, the adjective differentiates that Sarah from Blond Sarah who is also referred to as Writer Sarah which might be confusing because the Boy knows two of my former students who both graduated the same year who are both fabulous writers.  So, the first writer Sarah becomes Blond Sarah because it differentiates her from the Sarah who wrote about a wail springing up from the crowd.  Only I heard whale springing up from the crowd which was rather hysterical because the Whale Sarah is a satirist and she was writing about a funeral and I could really see her writing about a whale at a funeral.

Really, I’m not crazy. But I am a very happy person with adult [undiagnosed] ADD whose mind springs from one thought to the next.  Trust me, teaching is a lot of fun for me…maybe not for my students until they learn to relax and just follow the intellectual roller coaster ride.  Well…maybe not intellectual….but still.

Anyhow (see, another round of Graceless ADD roller coaster ride tangents), my children use different adjectives to describe people. Not because this is a statement of condition but because it helps differentiate people from one another.

This is important to me.  Because it means that my children don’t see people for their…differences?  I’m not certain about the right word here.  I just know that my children aren’t unsettled by race, sexuality, ethnicity, or physical differences that people use to create bubble charts and boundaries.

One day, a friend of mine, Brittany, was visiting.  I have no memory of it, but I love Brittany’s story of how the Boy came up to her, put his fingers on her arm, rubbed in a circle, lifted his fingers, checked the pads of his fingers, repeated the rubbing gesture, checked again, and then walked away.

Brittany is black.  Although the Boy had encountered many African-American individuals in the past, he was curious to see if her pigmentation could be rubbed off.  Sometime around this experience, the Boy also told me that when he grew up, he wanted “to be a brown person.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because,” he said, pausing and then taking a deep breath so he could emphasize the next part of the sentence.  “Their skin is so beautiful.

Yup.  Proud moment here for this momma.  My son didn’t see a definition.  He saw a color and used it to describe a person.  Not define.

Brittany has served as an amazing teacher to the Boy and the Girl.  She also has a chronic pain condition (and those words do not do justice to the agony I have seen this woman experience) which is horrifically debilitating (still not doing justice).  Therefore, she will, at times, be confined to a wheelchair.  And, to my children, it’s an accessory, much like a purse or a pair of earrings.  We went to a zoo with Brittany and, due to all the walking, she opted to ride in the wheelchair.  The kids loved it.  They fought over who could push her (be her engine they called it).

But they also learned.  They saw how people chose not to see Brittany because to see her meant to see her wheelchair and people became embarrassed (don’t ask me…but I saw it too).  Maybe they were ashamed for pseudo-staring.  I don’t know.  But my children and I learned, firsthand, the blindness (irony here) that is applied to people in wheelchairs.  In one indoor exhibit, people literally crawled on top of and over Brittany. Yes, you read that right.  They literally climbed over her.  Because going around was not an option.  I was horrified.  Not because my friend was experiencing a moment of disability but because of people’s choices not to see her as a human being.

This is why I am a blessed person (okay…bear with me..just read a little further).  Because the people I have met and have befriended and have taught have given me insight into their lives and I have learned from them.  And, in doing so, I have become a much better person (God, forgive me for my arrogance because that sentence seriously sounds pretentious) because I have been able to learn from people who have experienced things in life that I will likely never experience.

One night, after teaching a university class, three students stayed after and we chatted.  They were women who were adults during the Civil Rights movement, and these women were African-American.  Now, if you have looked at my picture, you will observe that I am not of that complexion.  In addition, I wasn’t born until the 70’s; therefore, I have no experience living in the Civil Rights movement.  However, since these women were willing to share their stories with me, I learned about what it was like to have to sit in the back of the bus.  I heard, firsthand, about the peaceful protests and the violence that was exerted against them.

Time and again, I have been fortunate to collect stories from people who were willing to share.  Ken, a man who drove across America in his military uniform after serving in the Korean War…who was not allowed to eat inside the restaurant because he was black.  Dave, who taught me what it was to live in Vietnam and your the death of a friend and then to choose to tell stories to others so that they may learn.  Brian, a man who was briefly stationed in Saudi Arabia (I think) who witnessed public executions.  Bethany, who taught me what it means to bury her parent and continue to live with dignity and grace.  Brittany, who showed me what it means to be invisible in a chair that moves.  Sarah, who showed me what it is to read with my fingers.

I am blessed because people are willing to share their stories with me and help me learn and expand my perceptions so that when I meet other people who have had similar experiences, I am not stymied by discomfort.  Instead, I draw upon the lessons taught to me by amazing teachers, and try to show that I understand in my own limited way.

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